Starting and growing a successful small business takes discipline, project management and service skills, creative problem-solving abilities and more. Veteran entrepreneurs encompass all of these qualities along with leadership skills, tenacity and a can-do attitude gained from their military experience.
There are outstanding financial and educational resources available to veteran business owners (as well as their spouses, parents and children) to help them start and grow a small business, with continuous support throughout the life of their venture.
One important resource available throughout the country is the U.S. Veterans Business Outreach Center (VBOC). We spoke with Amy Amoroso, director of the Region 2 VBOC for New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, to learn more about what VBOCs can offer veteran entrepreneurs. Along with her U.S. Marine Corps veteran husband, Amy also owns a small business, and is the proud daughter and granddaughter of veterans.
“Around VBOC, we never hear ‘no’ or ‘I can’t’ from our veteran entrepreneurs. Instead, it’s ‘I’ve hit this hurdle, how do I get over it?’” says Amy. “This mentality sets them up for greater success in business. And we’re here to help them every step of the way, from the day they run their first ideas by us until they implement their exit strategies, selling their businesses or passing them on to family members.”
How VBOCs can help veterans and their families
As part of a national campaign to help servicemembers and their family’s transition to civilian life, veterans are offered opportunities for education, employment and entrepreneurial training. And for those who choose the entrepreneurial path, VBOCs are essential resources.
“VBOCs, who are funded in part by the SBA, work in conjuction with a variety of small business development resources to help veterans and their family members” explains Amy. “Among our many services, we offer free counseling, trainings and referrals to veterans, service members, Reservists and National Guard, and military spouses and their children.”
There are currently 22 VBOCs around the U.S. and its territories, and the services they offer include, but aren’t limited to:
- Pre-business planning workshops: Prior to launching a business, veteran entrepreneurs can participate in the VBOC’s entrepreneurial development workshops that explore key opportunities and challenges of self-employment. During these workshops, each client is also afforded the opportunity to work directly with a business counselor, who can provide valuable insight and advice to help participants develop their business.
For veterans and transitioning service members looking to start a business, Amy recommends the VBOCs Boots to Business workshop, which is a free, two-day “introduction to entrepreneurship” training class, sponsored by the SBA.
- Business-concept assessments: VBOC clients can work with business development professionals who will help them assess their entrepreneurial needs and determine the feasibility of their business ideas.
- Business plan preparation: VBOCs provide an array of services to help their clients create, strengthen and maintain a five-year business plan. These services include assistance on how to prepare and develop financial projections, marketing strategies, sales goals and other essential elements of a successful business plan. Boots to Business and the Reboot classes are open to transitioning service members, veterans, military spouses and service members at no cost. To find a class near you visit: https://sbavets.force.com
VBOC clients who are interested in more in-depth instruction on preparing a solid business plan, can participate in the VBOC’s Boots to Business Reboot, which is an eight-hour training program that offers valuable advice on business plan preparation.
- Mentorship opportunities: Clients who want additional and ongoing assistance to launch and expand their businesses, can benefit from the VBOC’s mentorship services that include on-site visits and monthly reviews of financial statements by business counselors.
- Networking opportunities: On top of training events, VBOCs frequently host local, regional and national networking events that are exclusive to veteran business owners, service members and their families.
“We work hard to develop strong, mutually respectful relationships with our veterans and their families,” explains Amy, “and we support them throughout the process of starting and growing their businesses. We offer our clients a totally comprehensive program and we’ll be there at every step, from the day they come to us to explore an idea until they sell or pass on their business.
She continues, “In addition to our services, which are mostly free, we also have attorneys who will do pro bono legal work to help veteran-owned businesses get off the ground and grow, as well as financial assistance and more.”
Certification assistance for veteran-owned businesses
Amy points out that, “VBOCs and the SBA also offer a huge range of opportunities for veteran business owners in industries such as landscaping and property management, construction, custodial services to security services, information technology and cybersecurity.” To help facilitate government contract work, EGF and VBOC can assist with federal and state certifications.
Among the types of certifications available are:
Business loans for veterans
Veterans can apply for EGF small business loan programs for which they and their businesses qualify. They can also take advantage of loan programs available exclusively to veteran business owners and their families, such as:
- Excelsior Growth Fund (EGF) has a special veteran loan program in partnership with Bank of America, with loans up to $250,000 at a reduced, fixed interest rate of just 5.75%. All Reserve, National Guard and Active Duty personnel, as well as honorably discharged veterans and their spouses are eligible. Here’s how three veterans used it, as well as EGF’s additional services.
- The NYS Veterans Farmer Grant Fund provides grants to support veterans across the state grow their agricultural businesses.
SBA guarenteed loans are also great for acquiring franchises, and as Amy mentions, “Franchising is great for veterans because franchisors know and appreciate the high-quality business owners that veterans become, and they love to work with them and to have veterans leading their operations.” For business owners looking to quire franchises, VBOCs and EGF can also help obtain the funding needed to leverage these opportunities.
More ways to support our veterans
EGF is proud to serve the veterans who have done so much for our country. If you’re a veteran who is interested in starting a business or who has launched and is looking to grow, please contact our Business Advisors today. We have a long and successful history of serving veterans and their families, and we’d love to help you, too.